Civil liberties group plans legal action if bill becomes law

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has asked Governor Mark Warner to veto a bill requiring methadone clinics to be located at least one-half mile from daycare centers and schools. In a letter sent to the Governor’s office yesterday afternoon, the civil liberties group promised to offer legal representation to any clinic that is illegally prevented from locating in an area where methadone patients live, should the bill become law.
“The purpose and effect of this bill is to prevent methadone clinics from locating in urban areas, the very places where they are most needed and serve the greatest good,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. “Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, methadone clients are disabled persons. That means the government can’t discriminate against them by eliminating the places that provide services to them.”
According to the ACLU’s letter, the half-mile buffer around schools and day care centers may make it difficult or impossible for methadone clinics to find locations in densely populated areas.
“Supporters of the bill claim they want to curtail methadone clinics because they cause crime, while studies show conclusively that methadone clinics actually reduce illegal activity by taking heroin addicts off the streets,” added Willis. “The shame on legislators is that they knowingly passed a bill that that may very well increase crime in Virginia.”
Federal courts have consistently held that zoning laws that exclude or excessively restrict the places where methadone clinics can locate are a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although the existing case law addresses local zoning ordinances rather than state laws, the ACLU believes that the same legal principals apply to both.
A surprise criticism of the bill came recently from President Bush’s drug czar John Walters. During a presentation at George Washington University on March 9, Walters was quoted as saying the Virginia methadone measure was a “bad bill.” His office later confirmed the remarks generally.
Although the methadone bill passed by veto-proof margins in both the House of Delegates and the Senate, the ACLU believes that the Governor may be able to convince enough lawmakers of the illegality of that law to sustain his veto. A copy of the letter to the Governor is found at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20040325-Methadone-Bill-Veto.pdf.

Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022

Aimee Perron, Legislative Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022

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